Cobb District Attorney Joyette Holmes affirmed, "This is another step forward in seeking justice for Ahmaud."
Trigger Warning: The story has details of racism and hate crime that readers may find disturbing
The three white men who murdered 25-year-old Ahmaud Arbery, an unarmed Black man jogging through a Brunswick, Georgia, neighborhood in February, were finally indicted in a landmark Georgia grand jury ruling. Gregory McMichael, Travis McMichael, and William "Roddie" Bryan all face a nine-count indictment, CBS News reports. The charges include malice murder, four counts of felony murder, two counts of aggravated assault, false imprisonment, and criminal attempt to commit false imprisonment. The verdict has been highly praised by those protesting the malicious killing. Cobb District Attorney Joyette Holmes announced the monumental indictment on Wednesday.
Arbery's death became of national interest when a video of the three men basically committing a hate crime surfaced on the internet. It soon went viral. While Gregory McMichael and his son Travis explicitly told police officers that they chased the victim and gunned him down as they believed he was a "burglary suspect," they were not arrested and charges were not placed against them. After heavy criticism from citizens across the country, the state of Georgia was moved to begin a more thorough investigation and charge the pair with murder and aggravated assault. Bryan, the third man charged in the case, aided the crime by boxing Arbery in with his truck. He also filmed the video that eventually went viral.
On Tuesday, the Georgia legislature passed a bill against hate crimes. Sadly, the new bill (which is yet to be signed into law by state Governor Brian Kemp pending a legal review) will not apply retroactively to Arbery's case. District Attorney Holmes stated, "If this bill were signed prior to the incident, then it might be something we'd be able to look at in this case." Nonetheless, the federal government may also file charges against the perpetrators of this heinous crime under the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act.
In states that currently do not have the appropriate legislation to prosecute hate crimes, the Department of Justice can step in and act as a "backdrop." At present, the department has claimed it is reviewing the Arbery case in order to determine whether federal hate crime charges would be applicable under the given circumstances. Further to this, the Department of Justice is considering a request to investigate the conduct of the first two district attorneys assigned to the case. The request was submitted by the Attorney General of Georgia. The duo recused themselves from the case amid allegations about their links to Gregory McMichael, a former law enforcement officer. They were also accused of mishandling the case.
According to Holmes, Arbery's family was "ecstatic" about the verdict from the grand jury. After all, in many cases, individuals who commit such a crime face few to no consequences for their actions. It has long been understood that the American justice system, at both the federal and state levels, suffers from institutional racism. This case was one of the many that forced the system to reckon with its problems. Holmes affirmed, "This is another step forward in seeking justice for Ahmaud."